Sunday, November 22, 2009

They like to watch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Radio Silence 2: Podcast Boogaloo

As some of you may remember, I was pretty torn up about losing 97.1 FM Talk back in February. I went through a dark time after that and I found myself listening to NPR podcasts (Car Talk, Fresh Air, and This American Life) as a way to ease the pain. When they got too NPR-y for me, I would turn on one of the music stations just to mix things up. One day, I found myself singing along to a Daughtry song. It was a bleak, bleak time for me.

Then I heard something about an Adam Carolla Podcast, and things took a turn.

Faster than anyone else at 97.1, the Aceman embraced his new place in the universe. He set up a studio in his cavernous garage and started bringing in guests, engaging in long form interviews ranging from personal masturbatory techniques to nitty gritty, let's get really real, smack-down dish sessions. He was born for this type of ranting, and the thing took off for him. I had part of my radio family back, so I started looking around for the rest of them.

Somewhere along the way, Frosty, Heidi and Frank decided to put together a little thing called Frosty, Heidi and Frank Uncensored. Free of FCC restrictions, they were all free to be themselves. Again, their blend of current events and private declarations rang true, quickly building a following. They started podcasting every day, Frosty built a studio in his home and the gang settled in for a long, destitute summer. Eventually, they landed real jobs at TalkRadio 790 KABC weekdays 9-Noon. Now they record the podcast at the ABC studios and get to be raw at the end of the day. Everybody wins.

Let's take a break for a second.

So, I spend all day driving to different medical buildings trying to make a sale. I'm in and out the car constantly, which makes listening to anything stimulating on the radio a bit of a professional gamble. If I hear something interesting, it's very tempting to stay in the car... and I don't make any money in the car. Podcasts, however, give me the best of both worlds. I get the programming I want AND I get to pause it whenever I get out of the car. This is the game that's called, "I Win."

Okay, so I have the best parts of my radio family back and I'm pretty happy with my NPR/Adam/FHFU repertoire when I start noticing people plugging their own podcasts on Twitter.


Live From a Shoebox and You Look Nice Today turned out to be great little finds. You also get the added benefit of being able to follow these people and really get inside their terrifying heads.

Now I've really got the podcast bug and I decide to start rooting around iTunes. I am, at heart, a movie geek. If that's you, drop what you're doing and subscribe to Creative Screenwriting's podcast right now. Jeff Goldsmith manages to pull down some heavy hitters and he's not afraid to ask them the tough questions. If you want to hear Doug Benson talk about movies with a bunch of comedians, check out I Love Movies (just look it up). The list goes on.

I found another great podcast while listening to the This American Life podcast! Podcasts were giving birth to podcasts, and my head almost exploded. Nonetheless, you should download The Moth and listen to all kinds of people telling stories about their lives on stage. Brilliant, hilarious and touching. Just get it already.

Enough, right? There are hundreds of these things.

Here's the good news: All you have to do to listen to all of this fantastic material as you go on trips, run on the treadmill or sit in traffic on the 405 is subscribe in iTunes, sync it with your iPod of choice and let your computer do the rest.

And, oh yeah, it's all free. I'll say that again: FREE!

Remember "Pump Up the Volume" with Christian Slater? The part where he's driving around in a Jeep with a shortwave radio hooked up so the FCC can't triangulate his location and he drives down on the football field and tells everybody to steal the air? Yeah. It's happening and it's called podcasts. Check it out.

Or, go right back to your Daughtry cover of that Lady Gaga song on that computerized radio station and forget I said anything. Shame on you for knowing what I'm talking about.

Okay, fine. Shame on me too.

Friday, July 17, 2009

You wouldn't happen to have six fingers...

Stay away from Inigo Montoya and you should be fine.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tales from an Elevator

I spend a lot of time in elevators. As a drug rep in Los Angeles, I ride up and down huge medical towers in search of doctors who have time to talk between patients. I've seen celebrities, politicians, sick people, new mothers, dead bodies, delivery people and plenty of caterers. I have been stuck on two separate elevators. I know every maintenance man in every building, I recognize frequent flyers and I always hold the doors open for little old ladies trying to get on at the last minute. I feel very comfortable in this weird little microcosm and I see myself as a bit of a concierge.

Today, I'd like to share a few of my adventures with you.

1. Starr Gazing

One time I was at the top of a building waiting to get on. The doors opened and Ringo Starr was standing there with Barbara Bach. My knees locked and I almost didn't get on.


Sorry, but it's not every day you get to ride fourteen floors with a living legend. I pulled myself together and got on, giving them a nod. They knew I knew them.

I stood there, not staring at him in the mirrored wall. He started fumbling with the buttons and obviously didn't know what he was doing. When I asked if he needed help, (Yes, I initiated conversation with a Beatle about elevator buttons. I'm the concierge, damn it!) he said he couldn't remember where he left the car. I helped him out and he was very gracious about the whole thing.

As we rode, he looked down at my rolling cart full of samples. "Now, what do you do?"

"I'm a drug dealer." He looked me over and gave me a Ringo smile. You know the one.

"I could use a guy like you," he said. Then we both laughed. There was more to the conversation, but that's between me and Ringo.

2. Love in an Elevator

People get frisky in elevators. I blame that Aerosmith song, that Sharon Stone movie and just about every trashy romance novel ever written. There's something sexy about a private place in public, not unlike department store dressing rooms, and it makes people touch each other.

A few weeks ago, I got onto an elevator with about five floors to go. The smell hit me first. I'm not trying to be insensitive, it's just that sex has a certain odor and I was swimming in it. I looked over at the worming couple to my right only to find them with tongues down throats and hands down pants. There was some mutual masturbation happening not three feet from me and the door had just closed.


You're probably thinking you would've said something or gotten off (stop it) as soon as possible. Maybe you would've, but I didn't. There was a certain sweet immediacy to the scene and I couldn't help but feel a little jealous of them, if only for a moment. Also, they were a damn fine looking couple. To be more accurate, they were a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement come to shimmering life, so it's not like I was looking for the eye bleach. When I got off on my floor, they didn't even notice.

Now I think I'm pregnant.

(I have something to say to you elevator sex people: there are cameras. Unless, of course, that adds to the allure for you, then there are no cameras but many strains of bacteria. Knock it off and spend some quality time at home, where there are disinfectants, drapes and lockable doors to contain your passion. Unless you're a young, gorgeous couple in the throes of barely concealed foreplay, then by all means carry on.)

3. Did that Just Happen?

Last week I was at Cedars Sinai riding the elevators. I pushed my button and wedged myself into the back corner as the rest of the car filled up. A man in his mid-sixties got on, but only halfway. The door closed on his elbow and then reopened.

"Sorry about that, little elevator," he said, patting the stainless steel door as it closed again. A few of us exchanged glances. He chuckled. "Uh-oh. I'm hungry and talkin' to the elevator."

The quickest way to win over any elevator crowd is to whine about being tired, being hungry or the weather. Everybody in the car smiled, all of us feeling the drain of the day.

The young woman in front of me said, "Here, have a taco," before pulling one out of her purse and handing it to him.

Hold on a minute.

I'm not talking about an individually wrapped, soft taco from Taco Bell. I'm talking about a homemade, hard shell taco with ground beef, crisp lettuce, sour cream and perky tomatoes. It was wrapped in a paper towel and it looked friggin' AWESOME.

"You don't mind?" She shook her head, smiling. "Please."

He looked it over and then ate it as the elevator beeped at every new floor. A few of us exchanged glances again. I looked down at the purse. Looked pretty empty, but you never know.

"I like ice cream," I said.

Scary-ass PSA

If I had seen this as a child I would still be having nightmares.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Who needs two engines anyway?

We were flying to Sioux Falls, South Dakota by way of Denver for a wedding. The plane smelled of feet and iron. The Captain came on and said something like "We have reached cruising altitude and it should be smooth sailing from here on out" when there was a loud BANG to my right.

You can't make this stuff up.

After a minute or two, the Captain came back on and told us the right engine had "substantial damage" and had to be shut down. He then explained that the plane handles just fine with only one engine and we would be heading back to Denver to switch planes.

For my part, I wasn't really that worried. I have been on some pretty dicey flights to and from Michigan in the dead of winter, so I figured they would tell us if we had to worry. The Captain seemed calm and upbeat and the crew kept serving drinks. Fine. Then I realized Jenna had a death-grip on my arm and tears running down her face. I leaned in close to her and tried to say reassuring things as she had her first full-on panic attack.

From this point on, every little wobble and hiccup meant we were all going to die in a huge ball of fire.

The woman behind Jenna started talking about how she was seventy years old and was ready to go if that's what needed to happen. The guy behind me was praying out loud. The couple to our right was holding hands and talking about pounding martinis if we made it out alive. The women in front of us were talking about every plane crash they could ever remember.

It is REALLY difficult to be reassuring when that is going on around you.

"Take control. It's not time to worry yet." And then her breathing slowed. She was repeating a mantra and the only thing I could make out was "I have so much left to do" and something about seeing Gypsy again. I don't think my own words made much of a difference, but they made me feel less impotent.

It was time to land. The plane started bucking all over. There was another BANG.

In this situation, your brain is not your friend. It flashes all kinds of nasty images in front of you and you concoct entire conversations that your friends will have about you and your untimely demise. Your screenplays go unproduced, your family name dies with you and your dog goes unfed. Thanks, brain.

When the wheels touched down I saw a huge fireball come hurtling down the middle of the cabin and wash over me. I watched the seats melt and the bodies vaporize as I stretched my hands out in front of me, a feeble gesture to hold it all back. Then I blinked and everyone was breathing easy, grateful to be down on the ground again.

I turned to find Jenna smiling at me, her face dry now. I kissed her on the head, and everything was okay.

The flight attendant, Melodie, said that none of the crew had ever been through anything like this. She said they train for it and everything went exactly the way it was supposed to. The Captain's name, for the record, was Brad Frost. If you ever meet him, buy him a beer for me. I would look for him myself but I'm going to be too busy producing movies, making babies and feeding my dog.

United Airlines has given each of us a "Sorry You Almost Died, Come Back Any Time" voucher. We might take them up on it as soon as we figure out Captain Frost's schedule. We have so much left to do.

Monday, May 4, 2009

What the hell is Twitter?

Let me start off by saying that I am, in no way, a Twitter expert. I am just a guy that typed in a very popular URL and started mucking around. I do not have thousands of followers. I do not have any appropriate nerd credentials. I do not have any fancy statistics or charts to woo you with. I have only my own experiences. You might find them useful, or you might not.

Kind of like Twitter itself.

I don't remember why I first came to Twitter. I was probably flitting around the web and happened upon yet another reference to "tweeting" and finally decided to set up an account. Or, more likely, one of my tech savvy friends talked me into it. Who knows for sure. After over 800 posts, I think it's safe to say I'm addicted.

Hold on, let's back up a step.

Q: What the hell is Twitter?

Wikipedia: Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as tweets.

That's it, really. Your screen is a constant flow of thoughts, links, jokes, confessions and pictures. You will only see "tweets" from the people you choose to follow, and you have to find them on your own. You start out with nothing, but they do offer a suggested user list if you need some help. I find most of the people on that list to be boring as hell, but that's just me. I have systematically crafted my own "Following" list over time, adding and subtracting people every day.

Q: Isn't it all just Facebook status updates?

There are many people who use Twitter in this way, but I don't follow very many of them. This type of behavior is brought on by the ubiquitous "What are you doing?" that stares you down every time you log in. It's a scary question, and it will freak you out in the beginning. Feel free to ignore it, if you like. I do.

Q: Why do people give a shit what I'm doing?

They probably don't, unless you're Ashton Kutcher. In that case, 1.6 million people want to know EVERYTHING that goes through your head. Indulge them. The internet is free, right? Fill it up.

Q: So, do I have to tweet?

You don't. It's as simple as that. Just like the rest of the internet, you can be a lurker. You can let the wave of news and nerditude wash over you as you bask in the dick and fart jokes. You can walk away from it for days and then jump right back in at random, choosing to catch up or not. It's up to you.

Now, if you want to contribute, there are many ways to go about it. You can try and be funny. You can post links to interesting things you find on the web. You can take pictures of weird stuff and post them for the world to judge. You can Re-Tweet (RT) things that other people posted. You can have semi-private conversations by starting your post with @ and the person's user name. You can do all of this and more, 140 characters at a time. If you're interesting, people will follow you. If you're not, they won't. It's as simple and as heartbreakingly difficult as that.

(A note about privacy. Unless you make your Twitter stream private, anyone can find it and read what you write. It will show up on Google searches. Try not to disparage your boss and lose your job.)

I tried it. I think it's boring.

I hear this a lot and I have two things to say about this:

1. You're following the wrong people. I don't know who the right people are because I'm not you. I follow people who make me smile, feel, think and respond. I follow athletes (Shaq, Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Coco Crisp), writers (Neil Gaiman, Paul Feig, Max Barry, Nicholas Kristof, John August), celebrities (Hugh Jackman, Ellen DeGeneres, Trent Reznor), Mommy Bloggers (Melissa Summers, Finslippy, Dooce, Dad Gone Mad), my friends and lots and lots of funny people. I find myself checking in hundreds of times a day because I just can't wait to see what @badbanana is tweeting about. It's a lot, which brings me to point number...

2. I get it, okay? It's a constant stream of crap to keep tabs on, and you already have four email addresses, a Facebook page, two MySpace accounts, your friend's blog, a Fantasy Baseball team and your Netflix queue to keep track of. Who has time for Twitter? I'm a busy guy, so I wasn't really a fan until I downloaded one of the Twitter apps for my iPhone (I recommend Tweetie). Suddenly, it was the perfect way to fill in the gaps in the day and it also gave me an immediate outlet for tweeting up a storm. If you don't have an iPhone, you can set up your Blackberry or Treo to do the same thing. You can even post with text messages if that's easier for you. Stuck at your computer all day? Check out TweetDeck or the full version of Tweetie. This can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.

So, where do I start?

Create an account. Let the address book search engine thingy scour your contacts and add the people you know. Go through their pages and click on some of the people they're following, adding those who sound interesting to you. You can always unfollow them later when you can't stand them anymore (I'm looking at you, Ashton Kutcher). That's it.

Again, I am not an internet guru. I do not pretend to understand everything about this cultural phenomenon. I am just another guy trying to change the world 140 characters at a time. Come join me.

I look forward to unfollowing you,


Saturday, April 18, 2009

The American version of "Mow the Lawn"

It's missing something. Maybe a Tulip reference would fix it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Life and death at my door.

When I opened my door yesterday, I found three little baby birds. There was a nest up in the corner of the building and it had collapsed, spilling the precious little things into the stone courtyard below. There was a heart-stopping moment when I realized that I could have easily stomped one without ever seeing it. They were so small, and so perfectly camouflaged that we were sure somebody else would stomp them into oblivion if we didn't move them.

When Jenna, my girlfriend, went out to find them, there were only two birds. We looked all over the place for the missing bird but found nothing. We did, however, find a little pool of blood directly under the defunct nest. Hmmm. Jenna scooped our two new friends up with a newspaper and gave them a new home in the big orange planter in the middle of the courtyard. They could live there safely until Mommy Bird showed up again.

Jenna, it should be noted, is a bird person. She has an African Grey and he's the love of her life. Naturally, she fussed over the little birds and tried to make them as comfortable as possible, even building a little shelter out of rocks to keep them warm for the night. I watched from the upstairs window as Mommy Bird found them and fed them. Woo-hoo! We went to bed, hoping for the best.

When I left for work the next day, they were still alive and hopping. I was elated. Turns out my morning grumpiness is no match for cute little birds. Jenna regaled me with updates all day and I was proud to hear that one of them had hopped off into the big bad world, strong enough to leave.

They grow up so fast.

When I got home, I took one last look at the tiny pool of blood on the stone slab. For the first time, I noticed tracks leading toward the building. I followed it with my eyes and found the body of the third little bird. He had made it as far as the stoop and had laid his little head on it. He could have been sleeping, but he wasn't. Jenna buried him in the potting soil after dinner. By then, the last bird had hopped away.

When I took Gypsy out for her evening walk, I stared at the planter. I'd spent the last two days worrying about three tiny little bundles of feathers and now I missed them. I wondered what they were doing and if they were okay. I wondered if there was an orange planter big enough for all of us, should we need it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Americans miss out on all the good ads.

Feeling rough around the edges? Feels great to trim the hedges!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What's a Drongo?


Just look at my name for a second. It won't bite. I promise.

Say it with me: Dron-gow-ski. If you're Russian you can pronounce it Druhn-govf-ski and I will be fine with it.

When your last name has ten letters, people get confused when they look at it. They end up adding letters that aren't there, resulting in some pretty strange gibberish. I've been called everything from the earnest Dragon-kerchief-ski to the tongue-in-cheek Drunk-Cows-Ski. As an added bonus, my name has been spelled incorrectly on everything except my college diploma, my tax documents and my sales awards. What does this say about the priorities of the world we live in?

I needed a nickname. My father tried to call me J-Bird, but that one never made it outside the family. There had to be something better.

If you look at my name, you can see how I got the name Drongo. It started in grade school but it didn't really catch on until college. At that point I had to pick an email address and "drongo3" was shorter than "jeff.drongowski." The name stuck and I've been Drongo for years.

I like the name Drongo. It's catchy, it fits me and it's a lot easier for people to spell than Drongowski. Perfect, right? I even have a doctor who calls me Drongo P.I. and pretends that I'm a secret agent, ready to kill him at a moments notice. He came up with that on his own by studying my name tag. If that's not proof of a good nickname, I don't know what is. All was right with the world.


One day I met a guy named David from Australia. We started talking and exchanged email addresses. When he looked at mine he started belly laughing right away, even slapped me on the shoulder.

"That's brilliant, mate," he said.

"Um... what's brilliant?"

"Drongo3. I love it!"

"I don't get it." He stopped laughing, trying to figure me out.

"It's like, idiot cubed, right? Genius." Uh oh.

Urban Dictionary defines Drongo like this: Dumbass, idiot (Aussie slang) "You've really mucked that up, ya drongo!"

I did a quick Wikipedia search and found out that it was also a "family of small passerine birds of the Old World tropics." They also had a very helpful picture of a Spangled Drongo.

So to sum up, my nickname, the name I've been going by for over ten years now, can be boiled down to Idiot-Bird. I've learned to embrace it. There's a certain poetry to it and, I'm sure my father will agree, it fits me.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

World Baseball Classic: U.S.A. vs. Japan

It was still the game I've followed since childhood, but it was different somehow. Tweaked. For starters, there were words on the scoreboards that I had never seen before...

How do you dream about playing in the Honkbal Hoofdklasse when you're a little kid in the Netherlands? If their word for fireman is even slightly better, we're never going to see that country in another W.B.C.

I tried to settle in and enjoy the game. As a Red Sox fan, this made me feel right at home.

And what's a game of good old American baseball without Ichiro standing on second and Derek Jeter scratching his balls?

Team USA trotted out some legends to try and impart some wisdom on the younger guys. Welcome back, Cal. We've missed you.

The problem with the W.B.C. is that the American fans don't have any idea what they're doing there. I could see it on their faces and hear it in their half-assed cheers. I felt weird chanting "U. S. A.!" at the top of my lungs and didn't do it more than once. The thing is, we like Ichiro, Matsuzaka, Fukudome and Iwamura. We've adopted them as our own and it makes us feel weird to see them in some other uniform, playing against us. They've become part of our culture... but they will always be Japanese at heart.

The Japanese fans weren't confused at all. They cheered every strike, booed every ball and went crazy for each of the nine runs their offense put up for them. They looked like this for the entire game.

They had better chants, better headbands, better noisemakers and better posters. In the end, they got what they deserved.

I think the World Baseball Classic has the potential to become an epic test of patriotism and talent. Maybe the American fans will figure this out before the tournament rolls around again. I hope so. Without us, Team U.S.A. doesn't stand a chance.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This Pharma Life: Ruined.

I listen to every "This American Life" podcast and I've recently started watching the TV version on Showtime. As I was thinking about writing this blog, I thought it might be fun to structure it in the T.A.L. tradition. Call it a tip of the hat to Ira Glass and all the fantastic people at Chicago Public Radio.

So, today on This Pharmaceutical Life, stories about things that are ruined.

My blog today is in three acts. Act 1: A mother misses the point of her own lesson. Act 2: The death of cool. Act 3: Mondays really are that bad.

Act 1

This morning I found myself standing by an elevator with my rolling file cart, waiting. There was nobody else around until another drug rep came up with another rolling cart. We nodded a casual greeting and looked at our phones. A mother pushed a stroller up and started fixing her young daughter's hair as the baby in the carriage started crying. Five other people walked up.


One of the elevators opened and the last five people piled into it, blocking the rest of us out. The doors closed, leaving us all to wait for another round. The young girl said, "That's not fair, Mommy, we were here first." The mother said, "That's just how people are. They have no consideration for others."


Another elevator opened and the mother raced over to it, jamming her stroller in, blocking me and the other drug rep out for yet another elevator. The door closed, leaving both of us, the two people who had been waiting the longest, standing in the corridor together. We smirked at each other. Good life lesson.

Act 2

I was standing in the back office of a prominent medical practice today when a famous Rocker was admitted to a patient room. I can't tell you who it was for legal reasons, but if you imagine any of the Hair Band guys from the eighties, you'll be pretty close. He still had the teased out hair, the crazy tattoos and the low-slung leather pants. I always wondered what those guys would look like when they got older... they look pretty much how you would expect.

As a rule, I try very hard not to listen to what people are talking about with their doctors. I'll go so far as to walk away from a room if I hear anything. Mr. Rocker was in the room for twenty minutes or so when he came out, still talking to his doctor, " my slipped disk is feeling a lot better but my sinuses are, like, impacted. It feels like there's a mountain of snot in my face."

The saggy skin, the trying-too-hard hair, the absurdly commonplace medical ailments... rock stars will never be the same for me.

Act 3

Last Thursday, I forgot to do laundry. This resulted in me having to reschedule Bow Tie Friday for the following Monday. Today. I was all excited about wearing the bow tie because, as a rule, Mondays suck. I figured everybody could use a little Bow Tie Monday, right?

On your average Bow Tie Friday, I get a dozen comments about the bow tie. People have shaken my hand, high-fived me, hugged me and dragged me around for other people to see. It's an event, and it makes everybody happy. Except, it turns out, if you do it on a Monday.

I was on my third call before anybody really even looked at me. People were locked into their Monday misery and refused to come out. No comments, no jokes and no breakthroughs with tough offices. It's possible that the bow tie has run its course, but I don't believe it. I last wore the bow tie on a Tuesday and got fantastic results. There is still power in that wacky little twist of silk, but nothing can overcome a bad case of the Mondays.

I'm Jeff Drongowski and I'll be back soon, with more stories of This Pharmaceutical Life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Left turn.

My dog, Gypsy, gets three walks a day and a couple of pee breaks at night. When you're on this kind of schedule you get into a routine and you rarely deviate from it. Walk out the door, turn right. Sometimes it's around the block and sometimes it's all over the neighborhood, but it's always a right turn.

I just took her for walk number two today, and I turned LEFT for the first time.

You're probably thinking, "Slow down there, crazy man!" I know, okay? This isn't the Change we've heard so much about and it isn't going to cause any paradigm shifts... or maybe it is.

People leave the house every day thinking they have the whole thing figured out. They make the coffee, make the bed, make it to work and then make it home. Every. Day. The rhythm of it soothes some people and drives others crazy. I've fallen into both camps at different times in my life and I've been firmly planted in the former as of late. I have a good woman, a good dog, a good job and a pretty good life. It's easy to walk in the same circle every day when you have that going on.

But I didn't do that, did I? I turned LEFT!

The street looks funny when you turn left. The light hits you in a new way, the cars are all going in the other direction and all the signs show you their backs, as if they don't approve of this new wrinkle in the universe. I checked out my neighborhood again as Gypsy happily peed in a new patch of grass and I liked what I found. It was the same walk, but it was new for both of us.

You should know that I didn't just turn the doorknob and decide to go left today. I don't work like that. I respond to movies.

"Henry Poole is Here" is a Jeff movie. There are no aliens, no explosions, no robotic spiders, no ransom notes and no super powers. Because of this, most of you have probably never heard of it. It's a dramedy about a sick man (Luke Wilson) trying to live out the rest of his short life alone when one of his neighbors discovers the face of Jesus in the stucco on his house. A man without hope is surrounded by the hopeful. It's cute, charming and has a certain inspirational gravitas.

I watched this little gem and then I grabbed the leash. I stood at the gate in front of my apartment and stopped Gypsy when she tried to go right. I can't tell you why. All I can tell you is that sometimes I forget how powerful a small movie can be, and sometimes I forget that I'm supposed to be writing those movies. "Henry Poole is Here" may not bring clarity to your life, but there is a weird little movie out there that will speak to you, and I challenge you to find it.

Just so you know, you may have to deviate from your normal route.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cloud Pictures

I take a lot of photos. Specifically, I take a lot of cloud photos. I took this one in Maui and it's my current desktop image. I thought you might like it.

If you don't like it, punch yourself in the face.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lawn stepper.

I go to a writing group on Tuesday nights. It's an interesting mix of people from very different backgrounds and I always come away with new ideas and creative solutions. I enjoy this group a great deal and I look forward to it every week.

Tonight I left for group a little late. Generally, I try very hard not to do this as we workshop material in the order we arrive at the table. Since we all have day jobs and the group goes until ten, you're much better off going early in the night while everybody's awake. I was late, but I only saw one car on the street so I thought I was going to be able to go pretty early.

I parked the car, turned off the iPod, unplugged my phone from the charger, unbuckled my seat belt, grabbed my bag off the seat and lurched out of the car... as another car pulled up to the curb. I watched as the other group member popped out of her car and headed toward the house.

I did the math: it was going to be close.

I started speed-walking down the sidewalk, messenger bag swaying as I went. It became clear that she was going to beat me if I followed the pavement so I cut across the lawn. She made a face and said something under her breath. "Hello," I said, thinking she was greeting me.

She gave me a weird look and repeated herself. "You're a lawn stepper." Her tone indicated that I liked to pan fry infants and bathe in the blood of freshly slaughtered unicorns.

I stopped and looked down at my feet on the grass. Yep. I was stepping all over the lawn in an egregious act of walking! I wasn't sure how I was going to live with myself.

"I'm not allowed to walk on the lawn?"

"Well, it makes it hard for it to grow, to look nice."

I don't have a lawn, so I don't think of these things. The guilt hit me in waves. Obviously, I had ruined everything and there would soon be an angry mob of homeowners on the scene to bury me in Miracle Grow. I had broken a fundamental law of the universe and I would have to suffer.

I grunted, swallowed a series of snarky comments and quickly made my way across the rest of the lawn without making eye contact. She was already at the door, which meant she had won the foot race and got to workshop her material before me.

Lawn Nazi: 2
Jeff: 0

The "lawn stepping" issue followed us to the table. She brought the matter to the attention of the group and tried to make me into some kind of insensitive prick for walking across the lawn. Andy, the group leader and homeowner, smirked and said he didn't give a shit about the lawn. Turns out he used to have a nice lawn but they did some work on the house and it messed up the sprinkler system and he gave up on it long time ago. Lawn Princess tried to convince Andy he needed a gardener and the whole conversation turned into a debate about the benefits of hiring people to clean your house and take care of your yard.

I was off the hook, but I wasn't finished.

The Patron Saint of Lawns was the first out of her chair when we wrapped up. I hung back, allowing everybody to beat me to the door. I watched them file out behind her, everybody still talking about the good work we'd read. When I hit the porch I called her name, everybody turning to look at me.

I held out my arms. I didn't say anything else because I didn't have to. The three other group members walking across the lawn on the way to their cars said it all.

Monday, March 9, 2009

My war on tobacco.

My parents used to smoke. My mother did it in secret, after my sister and I had gone to bed. My father did it right out in the open. He would come home from work and dump the contents of his pockets on the desk in the kitchen. Keys. Wallet. Change. Pager. Lighter. Benson & Hedges. I would stare at them as I walked past, entranced by the rich packaging. I would stand with the refrigerator door open and look over at them, milk spoiling by the second. They were there every day, and I would often open the box and count them, just to keep score.

One day I learned that smoking was bad for you. Could kill you, in point of fact. I sat in my little desk with my big head spinning. Death by cigarettes? Really? I looked at slide after slide of disgusting lungs and mortality rates on charts. I heard the word "addiction" for the first time. I thought of my parents, two very smart people, sucking death into their bodies every day. It was a big thing, this smoking revelation. It turned the desk in my kitchen into a hospital bed. When the teachers were through with their presentation I vowed to take action, to bring this fight home with me.

At first, I could only bring myself to steal a few cigarettes at a time. I'd wait for my parents to settle into the couches downstairs and I would tiptoe into the kitchen, pocket two or three cigarettes and slide into the guest bathroom. I broke them into little bits, flushed them and watched the tobacco swirl around, disappearing forever.

This went on for some time, until I couldn't stand watching him smoke anymore. I told him I wanted him to stop smoking, that I didn't want him to die. I don't remember what he said to me, I'm sure he tried to make me understand that it wasn't that easy, but the packs of Benson & Hedges stayed on the desk in the kitchen.

Every day I stared at the box. Every day I took more cigarettes and flushed them. Once or twice I broke a bunch in half and left them in the box. I vaguely remember I got a lecture about wasting money that I answered with Ghandi-like civil disobedience.

Then the box was gone.

I could still smell it on him so I knew he didn't quit. I rifled through the cupboards and his jacket pockets but didn't find anything. I went through the garage and his bedside table. Nothing. Then I went to mow the lawn and spotted them in his car. The doors weren't locked, so the cigarettes disappeared. He never mentioned it, but he did sit me down and tell me he was going to quit. If I had any coordination, I would've done a back flip in the yard.

He went cold turkey and switched to candy. Instead of a box of Benson & Hedges there was a bag of Lifesavers. Every time I heard the wrapper I would add a few minutes onto his life and smile. I had won the war, and I was proud.

That's how I remember it.

My father doesn't remember any of this. He doesn't remember the pleas for his health, the broken cigarettes or the civil disobedience. He tells me he always considered coffee to be a harder habit to break, that he just decided to stop smoking one day and did. No fanfare, no withdrawal and no happy little boy.

Knowing this, I have to look back and wonder if my war on tobacco was all in my head. Have the years taken a few little gestures and magnified them into drastic measures? Could this just be another symptom of the storytelling disease that has taken over my life?

I do have some very vivid memories of tobacco swirling around a toilet, of my mother hiding a cigarette when I came downstairs, unable to sleep. I remember sitting in the car when I was supposed to be mowing the lawn, staring at the pack of cigarettes. I put a cigarette in my mouth and studied myself in the rear view mirror, pretending to smoke and drive. I remember feeling like an adult as I picked a tobacco leaf off my tongue. I also remember putting the pack of Benson & Hedges at the bottom of the garbage can and spreading some old newspapers over it.

I can't prove that any of these things happened, but I don't think that it matters. What matters is that neither of my parents smoke anymore, and that it's a better story the way I tell it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Victory Dance

Every time I finish a new script, I do a shot of the best whiskey I have in the house. I started this tradition with my first script and I've never missed one. I think it's important to find a way to celebrate the little victories in life. Tonight, Anthony and I turned in the first draft of our new psychological thriller and Evan Williams answered the call.

Here's hoping we all have something to celebrate this year.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Best Acceptance Speech?

Mickey Rourke accepting his Best Male Lead award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Disclaimer: NOT safe for work, children or your grandmother. I mean it. You've been warned.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Oscar Picks

I still have not received my invitation. If I had a publicist, I would fire them.

This is who I think is going to win, not who I want to win. I'm never very good at this but here we go, short and sweet:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Best Director: David Fincher for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Gus Van Sant could steal it from him.)

Best Actor: Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler

Best Actress: Kate Winslet for The Reader

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis for Doubt

Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black for Milk

Adapted Screenplay: Peter Morgan for Frost/Nixon

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Radio Silence

I've been a big fan of 97.1 FM Talk since my days selling copy machines. I would wake up in the morning and listen to Howard Stern ramble on about porn stars and midgets during my commute from Burbank to Santa Fe Springs. When I left the office to hit the field, Frosty, Heidi and Frank kept me company with their amicable and often insightful banter. At three o'clock, Tom Leykis took over with his loud mouth and rules for getting laid without spending any money. The guys in the office were all fans, and we would talk about what he said when we got back to our cubicles around five.

When you sell copy machines you spend a lot of time in the car. You wander all over your territory in search of a business you haven't seen before and nobody wants to talk to you. It can get lonely out there and it hit me hard in the beginning. I found myself getting really involved in all the shows on 97.1.

I listened every day. EVERY DAY. Okay, fine, I may have listened to my iPod every now and again, and I flipped over to NPR to catch up on world events from time to time, but there really wasn't a day that went by that didn't have 97.1 in it. Over time I grew to prefer Frosty, Heidi and Frank over the others, but I still listened to all of them.

When Howard left for Sirius I got Adam Corolla as a replacement. He had some hiccups in the beginning but I was one of the early adopters, empathizing with the enormous expectations he had hanging over him. His support staff changed a little over time, eventually adding Teresa Strasser, Bald Brian and then Danny Bonaduce. Danny didn't last long, but they did give him his own hour between FHF and Tom as a consolation prize. I listened through it all.

When I switched over to selling pharmaceuticals, I lost touch with a lot of my copier friends but everyone at 97.1 came with me. For four years now I've heard their thoughts, laughed at their jokes and choked up at their personal tragedies as they aired their dirty laundry on the airwaves. I've sent them emails, called their shows and loitered on their websites.

On Thursday, I found out there was going to be a format change.

CBS radio had decided to end the FM Talk station entirely, firing everybody on every show in favor of a computer-generated, Top 40 format. No more hilarious rants from Adam, no more tongue-in-cheek apologies from FHF, no more narcissistic bragging from Danny and no more insensitive, shock-jock antics from Tom. My friends were scattering and they all stumbled through their Thursday shows, trying to find the right words after years of talking.

Cut to Friday. This was THE DAY and everybody was prepared with montages, testimonials, special guests and grand gestures. I lucked out and was able to hear Adam Corolla sign off, promising to show up in the form of podcasts and TV shows. I jumped in my car for the last forty-five minutes of Frosty, Heidi and Frank, wiping my eyes as they thanked their listeners for being such a big part of their lives. I had to work through Danny's big goodbye but I did manage to catch Tom "blowing up" the station with one of his trademark nuclear drops (Blow Me Up, Tom!) as I drove home, another week in the books.

The air went dead. Then there was a long tone, like something out of a bad science fiction movie where all the robots try to kill everybody. More dead air. Then the montage started...

I don't know enough about pop music to tell you all the artists represented in the hodgepodge of craptastic music, but I can tell you it felt like a bullet in my chest. After they wrapped up their medley and promised 10,000 songs without commercial interruption, they played their first song: Kanye West's Paranoid. I turned off the radio before the song finished.

Look, I understand the money angle on this whole thing. Eight people worked on Adam Corolla's show alone, and all of them had to be paid. You'd have to pull down some absurd ratings all day long if you wanted to justify the staff costs for that many shows when you could get mediocre ratings from a computer playing the latest Beyonce hit. The economy is bad and every company has to tighten its belt. I get it, but I can't feel good about it.

It's Saturday now and I'm sure my radio friends are all trying to deal with their hangovers. I can't speak for the others, but I know that Frosty will dive into a pile of cheeseburgers, Heidi will go for a run and Frank will smoke a joint, all of them trying to clear their heads and figure out what to do now. They will all make it through the day and so will I, because it's Saturday.

Come Monday, I have no idea what I'm going to do without them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Durex condom commercial.

This will never air in the United States, which is a shame.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another birthday without me.

My nephew, Tyler, turned fifteen today. When I packed up a van and left Michigan, he was nine. I was there the day he was born. I was not there the day he turned ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen or fifteen. I was represented by a gift certificate, a check, a video game or a phone call. This hurts me. I know it hurts him, too.

How do you stay in touch with a teenager who doesn't like the phone? Video games. Last summer I bought an Xbox 360 because he bought one and they come with headsets. Since then I've killed people in the worlds of Halo, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto just to stay in his life. My guilt is a trail of burnt, dead bodies on the internet.

(Hold on, I should take a moment and admit that I do, in fact, like video games. Always have. This Xbox thing is no great sacrifice. Let's move on.)

My niece, Hollie, doesn't mind talking on the phone but she's better at text messages and snarky Facebook comments. She just turned seventeen and she's about ready to go off to college. She was twelve when I left, she can't possibly be ready to go to college, can she?

When you move to the other side of a continent, you either hate your family or love your dreams. Ugh. "Dreams." I've grown to hate that word. It makes me think of American Idol speeches. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to love it.

"Follow your dreams!"

"Never give up on your dreams!"

"Keep true to the dreams of thy youth!"

In grade school I wanted to be a novelist. In college I wanted to be a poet and a playwright. After nine screenplays, a couple of minor options and a bigger one they wrote about in Variety, I am a screenwriter. When I moved to California I didn't know anybody and I didn't have much of a plan. I was slowly dying in Michigan because I felt like my life was secretly happening somewhere else. After five and a half years of looking, I found it in Hollywood. You know what? I love it. It has a fantastic woman in it. It has a great dog. It has a healthy bank account and no debt. The price for all of this is an empty chair at many, many birthday parties.

I've given up all these birthdays to follow my dreams and I'm not done yet. Every time one rolls around I'm reminded that I better get back to work. I better do one more rewrite, flesh out one more pitch because I'm paying for this time with every candle they blow out without me, and I'll never get them back. My only hope is that my family can understand how important this is for me, and that they don't hold all those candles against me.

Happy Birthday, Ty. I hope you have the courage to follow your own dreams, no matter what they cost you.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bow Tie Friday

This all started because, after three years of being a drug rep, I still had doctors that didn't know my name. This bugged the hell out of me because "Relationship Building" has always been one of my strengths. I know their spouses, their dirty jokes and their taste in movies. I have a little file in my head for every doctor and I'm not afraid to use it. I'm good at this, damn it! Some of my doctors, it turns out, thought of me as just another drug rep. A nameless, faceless automaton who dropped off samples and brought lunch for the office. They didn't know who I was, what I sold and had no idea I had a secret life as a screenwriter.

I set out to raise my profile.

Step One: Grow a beard.

I went home to Michigan for Christmas. It was cold. I refuse to shave on vacation and when I got back to Los Angeles, I had a halfway respectable beard. I had never seen another rep with a beard, so I figured, what the hell, right?

EVERYBODY had to tell me how they felt about my fresh scruff. Admins, nurses, echo techs and, most importantly, doctors. My Russian doctors embraced me as one of their own. Love it or hate it, doctors talked to me and remembered me the next time I saw them. It became a thing.

Step Two: Bow Tie Friday.

Now I was the Beard Guy and doctors that never talked to me before were going out of their way to ask me how everybody liked it and talk about how it was growing in. I used this time to get my message out and burrow into their brains, kicking out competitors as I went. I started to wonder how I could take it up a notch. Then, like a jolt of serotonin, it came to me. Bow ties!

NOBODY wears bow ties anymore. Sales people looked at me funny when I asked for them. They'd pull out a dusty box and try to talk me out of it. Men's Wearhouse had formal bows but nothing you could wear with a suit. Nordstrom's finally came through at the low, low price of $45. Sold, to the man in the boring neck tie! I took my prize home and prepared to take over the world.

Do you have ANY idea how hard it is to tie a bow tie? I had to look it up on YouTube and there were a hundred excellent examples of how to royally mess up a bow tie. Then I found Lucky Levinson.

Done and done. Thanks, Lucky.

Now, when should I debut the thing? I settled on Friday because there's a more casual atmosphere in most offices and doctors are in a better mood. I wore it to Cedars Sinai on the next one that rolled around. Guess what I found out? Bow ties make people happy.

Two doctors paraded me through their waiting rooms to show their patients. Another doctor came right up to me and started adjusting the thing, breathing in my face. I could feel eyes on me everywhere I went. Some nurses laughed at me, lots of people chatted me up in the elevator and I had one doctor holding back tears as he told me about how his father always wore one. Bow ties, it turns out, are connected to some very emotional memories. That's a very good thing.

When I came back through those offices, this time in a regular tie, those doctors not only remembered my name but went out of their way to spend time with me. I had broken through the wall and become a bearded, unique face.

At this point you probably think I'm over selling the idea. I don't blame you. I wouldn't believe it either if I hadn't just worn it out into the world for the second time with the same results. I'm not saying that bow ties are magical or anything, just that they command attention. So, go ahead, shake up your life a little and make a statement:


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Makes me want to.

If I had a sticker, I would put it on this piece of paper. Right now I'm thinking a Chiquita Banana sticker would fit the bill without incriminating anybody. Otherwise, I'm on a mission to find a sticker for my competitor.

I must learn to control these capitalist impulses...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

She's a Bitsa. Bitsa this, bitsa that.

This is Gypsy. Animal Control found her running down the 134 Freeway with a big nasty shock collar around her neck. It took them a week to catch her. We adopted her a week later when my parents wanted to give me a dog for my 30th birthday. Best present I ever got.

A burning question.

My mother tells me that I never asked her "Why?" like so many kids do. I find this hard to believe because I know I questioned why I had to come in when the streetlights came on, why I had to eat those revolting beets and why I had to march in yet another Tulip Time parade. She sticks to her story and insists that my question, the one that drove her crazy, was "And then what happened?" I'll provide an example for you:

"Your father and I got married and went to the Pocono Mountains for our honeymoon."

"And then what happened?"

"It rained the whole time we were there."

"And then what happened?"

"Your sister happened."

You get the idea. Every time somebody recounted their day, I provided a minefield of questions about what happened next. I had an insatiable desire to find out the rest of the story. What I remember is that there was always more. Something always happened after whatever they were trying to tell me and it was almost always more interesting than whatever they originally wanted to share.

I have carried this fascination with me into adulthood. It serves me well in the world of screenwriting, but in my personal life it has become this giant, unspeakable thing in the center of my brain, dictating every action, every thought. Tomorrow is always more interesting than today. My accomplishments are nothing compared to what I'm going to do. The people in my life are never as impressive as the people I will meet tomorrow.

This is no way to live.

This never-ending quest I've been on to find the future and to dig into consequences has left me unable to fully appreciate the moment I'm living through. I never smile about today without worrying about tomorrow.

Some days I think the best thing that could happen is that I could be diagnosed with some terminal illness and be given six months to live. Poof! The future would be gone in a string of sentences uttered by some Beverly Hills doctor. Just like that I'd be free to let the world happen around me at its own pace. Fortunately, that's not my story.

My terminal disease is life. If I live to be eighty, I'll have almost fifty years to learn to forget about tomorrow and live for today, to stop being promising and start being good and to make a life on purpose instead of holding out for some vague nothing out there on the horizon.

As a child you can be anything, so I think I just wanted to know my options. As an adult I have already been many things, and now I find my list of available options getting shorter. Every day I cross off a few more and boil me down further to find whatever lies beneath my manicured layers of artifice and ego in a blind search for what I want my life to be. I know I'm getting close to it but I can't touch it yet, can't taste it on my tongue. I took a big step by writing this and putting it out there.

And then what happened?